It is a truism that a political movement debating its reasons for existing knows it’s in trouble.
It’s no surprise that the National Conservatism conference held in London this week coincided with the fourteenth year of a Tory government that looks both incompetent and out of ideas, not to mention nearly twenty points behind in the polls.
But if the UK Tory party looks dead on its feet, national conservatism, in its various forms, is in rude health across much of Europe. One of the questions facing delegates this week is whether parties in Europe can unite behind a common programme that might allow them to shape politics across the continent.
We know who and what its enemies are: globalism, cultural liberalism, immigration, ‘wokeness’ and the rest.
National Conservatism is also a natural opponent of the European Union. To allies of Hungary and Poland in their rule of law disputes with the European Commission, EU values embody the worst of liberal internationalism and – the dirtiest of words to conservatives – progressivism.
Yet the question of what national conservatism is actually for remains largely unanswered. Conservatism is about conserving what is best about national traditions and institutions, but beyond defending the traditional family, it’s not clear what this movement wants to conserve and what it has to offer that other movements do not.
Parties like Fidesz, Law and Justice, and Brothers of Italy and, briefly, Boris Johnson’s Tory party have been successful in tapping into a unique sense of national identity. Giorgia Meloni, for example, has made cracking down on imitation Italian food and drink part of her government’s programme.
All of these parties have succeeded in going beyond their traditional conservative base to attract support from blue-collar voters who feel alienated by the left liberalism espoused by socialist parties.
But the nationalist conservative movement is full of contradictions.
One of the themes at the London conference was that free market capitalism focuses on freedom for the individual and weakens communities.
Several speakers pointed to how market capitalism and the high cost of childcare encourages both parents to work full-time, which, in turn, means more unstable families or lower birth rates. It’s hard to argue with this logic.
Yet conservatives, particularly those on the libertarian wing, still point overwhelmingly to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher – the king and queen of market liberalisation – as their ideological heroes.
Meanwhile, opposition to ‘wokeness’ – which is also at the heart of the NatCon agenda – is reactionary rather than conservative.
Wokeness is also a particularly ill-defined concept. To its opponents, it means ‘cultural Marxism’, ‘critical race theory’ or ‘cancel culture’, a series of vapid slogans which sound suspiciously like conspiracy theory lingo. It is also hard to imagine them ever being debated over the average dinner table.
To millions of people, ‘wokeness’ means nothing more sinister than tolerance, a value held by most moderate conservatives.
Where the mainstream parties of the centre-right, liberal centre, and the left have gone wrong is in becoming increasingly remote from their voters.
However, until national conservatives drop the culture war tropes, they also speak a different language to most voters.
Faced with growing criticism, the European Commission defended in a non-paper its legislative proposal to fight child sexual abuse material, arguing it is not at odds with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and existing case law.
The UK has released its National Semiconductor Strategy, setting out the country’s funding plans for the next decade, but critics have slated the announcement as ‘too little, too late’ compared to those of international counterparts.
The French Constitutional Council cleared this week the security measures that will likely be implemented for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games in France despite them not aligning with the currently under-discussion EU Artificial Intelligence Act.
The Czech Republic’s Digital and Information Agency (DIA) has set ambitious goals, but there are still obstacles on the road to a fully functioning eGovernment, such as low salaries in the civil service and a lack of experts.
A new regulatory framework to increase cybersecurity resilience is falling into place at the EU level, but it risks exposing the growing shortage of cyber-talent in regulators and companies.
Battling cancer and global health threats are at the heart of the new health-focused collaboration between the EU and the US, according to the EU-US Health Task Force presented on Wednesday.
A statement from North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Dimitar Kovačevski, drawing comparisons between Russia and Ukraine and Bulgaria and North Macedonia, has further fuelled tensions between the two Balkan neighbours.
Russian military forces have been enhancing defensive positions in and around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine in recent weeks, four witnesses said, ahead of an expected counteroffensive in the region.
Check out this week’s Tech Brief and the Agrifood Brief, as well as our podcast about the upcoming Greek elections.
Look out for….
- G7 summit in Japan (Friday-Sunday), Commission President Ursula von der Leyen attending.
- Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean meets Pete Buttigieg, US Secretary for Transportation, in Washington on Monday; addresses the Atlantic Council.
- EU-Republic of Korea summit on Monday.
- Foreign Affairs Council on Monday.
Views are the author’s
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Alice Taylor]